ALD, Hard Times
Well, we lived anxious and sad. We went to Richmond to see friends. I stayed often with our cousins the Bookers who lived on Clay street just opposite of Jefferson Davis, so I saw the Davis’ a good deal in their domestic life. Mrs. Davis and her sister Miss Margaret Howell, I admired them physically. They, especially Mrs. Davis, were very clever and brilliant in society, but her lack of innate refinement was too evident. President Davis was greatly her superior. He was as refined as he looked, always the gentleman. The children were very attractive. I saw them very often–Maggie, Jeff and Joe.
I was there visiting Cousin Carrie when dear little Joe climbed the railing of the upper porch and fell over and was killed. It was a terrible tragedy to the city. Horrible events were not common then as now, people had time to realize the horrors. Winnie Davis was born during the “Confederacy” in the Executive Mansion. The Davises are all dead now. Maggie married and may have children. I don’t know, she lived in Colorado. Jeff died of smallpox, unmarried. Winnie lived with her mother in New York City. She had a liberal pension from the impoverished Southerners, but did not care to cast her lot with them. She and the children are buried in Richmond, at Holywood Cemetary. Here I will state that the Confederate Monument in Soldier Cemetary was designed by a great friend of mine, Captain Charles H. Dimmock who married first Judith Monte of Baultimore* (Ernie’s mother) and second, my especial friend Lizzie Selden, a fateful friend and school mate who still lives and remembers me. We have corresponded for fifty years. But this is a digression. I do* back to my life in Richmond the last year of the war.
My sister Jeanie and I visited our friends, Mary Gibson, who was in the whirl of society, intimate with Davis and cabinet. So we knew them all. We did not attend festivities. Our hearts were too sad, my sisters death and George in hourly danger, our starving people. Not a day but some dear one was killed, battles raging around us. I could not approve of balls and parties and frivolities. We had so little to eat, our soldiers and prisoners on the verge of starvation. The south was blamed because she did not feed her prisoners well. How could she when all ports were blockaded and our own were no better off. No hand was given to help us, we were helpless, all our men had to fight and left the fields, nobody left at home but women, children and old men. If our northern brethren had seen another side to the vexed question. Possibly we were to blame not to compromise as many of our people urged and many in the North would have done. But our people, North and South were ignorant of each other and prejudiced and the politicians did all their evil hearts could do to fan the flame. Someday we will know.
Our people could not realize the cruelty in their hearts. Such men as That* Stevens, Sumner Stewart, I was once at West Point when Johnson, after Lincoln’s death, traveled through west and north with his cabinet. I saw them all as they went to lunch. I was invited to partake, being with a prominent party, but my heart was too sad and my feelings too bitter to break bread with them, so with tears I turned and left. This is a great digression again, but I don’t regret it for I might fail to write it later.
Our industries, our plantation were wonderful. We raised cotton, sugar cane, spun cotton and wool. We still had the sheep the Raiders did not get. We raised all crops and vegetables, but think of our large family and the army and prisoners and so many in the city, and 200 servants to feed and clothe. We put up an old fashioned hand loom. One of the women could weave, so she set to work and wove the cloth for their clothes, for towels, blankets, and sheets, We raised flax and she spun tablecloths and napkins and even beautiful cloth for our dresses. By this time our clothes were wearing out and there was no way to get any more. We had no coffee, no tea, no lights, We made all the soap we used, plaited straw for hats and bonnets, some made shoes. Some of the servants went barefooted and so did the children. We preserved and dried fruits, made starch, in fact did everything. I remember we used to go in the fields and for “Life Everlasting” to make yeast and sassafras roots for tea. We tried many substitutes for coffee, toasted wheat, sweet potatoes, etc. but nothing was fit to drink. But we did not mind all this.
Our servants were well behaved and loyal. Their minds had not been poisoned and they were attached and faithful. My mother did a great work. Our home was an Industrial School. She trained the young negroes in all household departments. We had carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, shoemakers’ shops. And the farm had horses and cattle, so the negro boys could go into any of these vocations. The young girls were taught to cook, wash and iron, to sew, spin, card and clean up. To work in the dairy, to milk, churn, and were often allowed to work in the flowers. We had a conservatory that was a joy in the winter, filled with exquisite blooming plants, and in springing summer our yard, a large one, was like Eden’s bower. My Aunt Martha Strother lived with us. She helped my mother in every department, was 14 years older than my mother, and like a mother her and to us. We were devoted to her. she was a model of refined beauty, of great intelligence, and the most devoted Christian, always carrying the Golden Rule as her guide. Our home was hers to come and go as she pleased.
She was our sympathizer in all troubles and the one to bind our wounds and bruises. She was our mother’s half sister, her mother was Martha Payne, her grandmother a Dandridge, so was a cousin of my father. They were devoted to each other, both living at Retreat. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Georege Woodson Payne. Aunt Martha was the niece of Mr. Payne. My father, the great great great nephew of Mrs. Payne, and their adopted son.
But I must go on with the war. I digress too often. The summer of 1864 passed. John at home from school, crazy to go in the army. We had visitors all the time, house parties, our city friends and wounded soldiers on furlough never forgot us. George, a bright and brave boy, happy in the army. We sent food whenever we could. Our army concentrated around Richmond. After Christmas I was still teaching. Jean, Joe, Edith Mercer and Strother was still our baby and such dear one. Jean and Joe were beautiful children and so much admired. My mother loved to take them with her, they were different. Jean as dark as an Indian, with splendid eyes and features. Joe was like my beautiful sister, same gentle disposition. I remember his gentle dignity with Jean who was quick tempered and overbearing. Joe never lost his temper and so they got on well together and were very devoted. Joe made some quaint little speeches. He broke Jean’s wheelbarrow, who raged aroung*. Joe finally said, “Jean, I told you three times I was sorry I broke Your wheelbarrow. Now I tell you, I don’t care if I did!”
Another time someone asked him, what is Christmas, Joe?
“A big turkey cooked in a long oven, and a whole lot of pizen things,” meaning pies and things.
There were no cooking stoves, and everything had to be baked or roasted in ovens. The pots swung on the racks. The meat roasted on the spit, a rod also put on the rack. The fireplaces were huge, often the whole end of the kitchen. I wonder what the present day darkey would say to that condition of things.
Every drop of water was brought from a distance, up a steep hill, but there were little boys whose only duty was to do this. They played, and when water was wanted, a bell summoned them. Another set of boys prepared food for the cows. Large iron kettles were used to boil food called a mash. Turnips, beets, and corn mean* was given to the cows when these boys brought them in at night. They enjoyed this nice hot supper.
All these home scenes are like pictures in my mind. I see the faces. And my life then is like a dream. All was pleasant and if there were unhappy hours they faded from my memory. I have much that I could tell of the home life, but I haven’t time, for it makes me tired. My back aches so and I am nearly blind. It is strange that I remember so much and there is so much to tell.